ROME (Reuters) - Chiara Lubich, founder of the international Focolare movement of the Roman Catholic Church and one of the most influential women in modern Catholicism, died on Friday, her movement said.
Lubich, who was 88, died at her home south of Rome after being discharged from hospital on Thursday night, in line with her wishes. She had been in frail health for years.
The Focolare Movement has more than 140,000 core members and 2.1 million adherents in 182 countries worldwide.
The movement, which means hearth or fireside, attempts to spread Christian values by strengthening traditional families and promoting ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue.
Lubich got her inspiration during the horrors of World War Two, when she was a school teacher. At the age of 23, she said she experienced a religious awakening and felt a call to alleviate human suffering.
She went on to found one of Catholicism’s so-called “new lay movements”, centered around the belief that one did not have to become a priest or nun to live a full Christian life.
She won numerous awards, including the Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion and the Unesco peace prize.
Lubich, who was influential with, and admired by, several popes, was born in the northern Italian city of Trento in 1920 and founded the movement there in 1943.
She promoted the philosophy that the Church could be built from the grass roots and not just be centered around the hierarchy.
Lubich was particularly close to the late Pope John Paul, who also championed other lay movements in the Church, such as Opus Dei, the Sant’ Egidio Community and Communion and Liberation.
She promoted inter-religious dialogue and once preached in a mosque in New York’s Harlem neighborhood.
Lubich founded “mini-cities” in several countries where members could live and carry out their spiritual and social vocations.
Preaching that the gospel should be put into practice in every aspect of life, Lubich won the support of Pope Paul VI in 1964 and her influence began to increase.
Born Silvia Lubich, she later took the name Chiara (Claire in Italian) out of her admiration for St. Claire of Assisi, who along with St. Francis of Assisi, sought to live the gospel in a radically different way.
Editing by Elizabeth Piper